Senior sendoff

U volleyball head coach Beth Launiere said if any person can finish a four-year degree while being a student athlete, he or she should be congratulated.

Whitney Webb, Kate Robison, Hillary Taylor and Connie Dangerfield will receive that honor as they set to play in the last two home matches of their careers this weekend on Crimson Court.

“People underestimate how difficult it is to be a four-year Division-I student athlete,” Launiere said. “I think it’s a real accomplishment.”

The Utes will first take on UNLV, which is tied with Colorado State for first place in the Mountain West Conference with a record of 12-2. Utah will then pay tribute to its senior foursome Saturday night against San Diego State as part of the Utes’ Senior Night.

“I usually get pretty emotional,” Launiere said. “(Senior Night) is a celebration. It’s a celebration of their career, and yeah, it’s pretty emotional.”

Aside from the festivities, the Utes will also be looking to lockdown a fourth or fifth seed for next week’s Mountain West Conference tournament. The Utes, who currently sit at 7-7, will need a win in either of the two matches to nail down a first-round meeting with TCU.

Despite the rough season, the seniors have not viewed it as a disappointment.

“This year we’ve learned more than ever that success is not measured in how much you win or lose,” Dangerfield said. “Success is measured in what you learn and how you develop into a team, and how you develop into an individual.”

Aside from collecting two wins this weekend, Launiere and her Utes are looking to gain some confidence and momentum for the conference tournament, where a ticket to the NCAA tournament awaits the winner.

“Our saying is, ‘To be one power with a purpose,'” Laniere said. “I think, more than anything, (we need to) believe in ourselves.”

However the season ends, the Utes will be losing a significant chunk of what has made this team successful for the last four years.

Taylor — who has spent most of her two years at Utah on the bench — has inspired teammates with her work ethic.

“Honestly, she’s been one of the inspirations for me during the last two years,” Dangerfield said. “She comes into the gym every day and works hard. Sometimes its easy when you’re playing to just say, ‘I don’t want to be here today.’ For me to see her come in and work that hard every day is really inspirational, and I know I’m not the only person that thinks that.”

Webb, who was a third-team All-American in 2006, has been a huge driving force behind the Utes success over the past four years.

“I’ve seen Whit overcome a lot of things and become an amazing person and player,” Robison said. “She’s one of the most carrying people I know. If you ever need anything or are down about anything, she’ll be the first person there.”

Dangerfield has been the Utes’ on-court example of leadership and perseverance.

“She’s always been the player on the court that you look to do something great,” said Taylor, who’s known Dangerfield since eighth grade. “In high school, I wrote a poem about her because she’s always inspired me on the court. She’s always the first one on the court and the last one to leave.”

Robison has been the glue that has helped the Utes together through their high times in 2006 and the struggles that followed.

“Her freshman year she spent a lot of time going around to our whole team and finding out one thing that she had in common with everyone,” Webb said. “As the years go on, she really put that list into action. That helps us because when we’re on the court, she can lead us up.”

Although the send-off will be emotional for all those involved, the Utes still have the mentality that the final farewell can be extended for a while longer.

Launiere says that practice this week has been very productive and encouraging. Though the Utes have lost more than they have won, nobody can say that they have stopped fighting.

And no matter what the outcome of the season, the four Ute seniors will be walking away with more than just team apparel, awards and memories. They will be walking away with the knowledge that their time on the U volleyball team has helped them establish lifelong friendships.

“It’s weird because as a freshman you come in not knowing the team, so you come for yourself,” Webb said. “After four years, its for yourself and for your team.”

“It’s family,” Dangerfield said. “If we don’t see each other for four years, you know they’re there.”

[email protected]

Tyler Cobb

Utah volleyball hosts UNLV tonight at 7 p.m. at Crimson Court.